June 1, 2019
Todd sits at his computer
Todd: Ha! Those little alien comics. They do normal human things, but describe them in funny ways. Strange planet, indeed. [beat] I feel like I'm missing something. Like there was something I'm supposed to be doing, or...is there anything happening? Something important, or, uh...
Todd looks closely at his monitor to see an article about...
Todd: Wait, Taylor Swift dropped a new single? A month ago?! W-w-what happened to the Todd alarm?! [slaps computer] It's supposed to be notified immediately when something like this happens! Well, I-I gotta review it. Let-let me hear it. Let me hear the goddamn song! [puts on headphones over hoodie]
Four minutes later...Todd: ...Yeah, that can wait. [pause] Eh, I guess I'm not doing anything.
Todd sits down at the piano and plays...
TAYLOR SWIFT ft. BRENDON URIE of Panic! at the Disco - ME!
A pop song review
Todd can only sigh
Footage of Taylor Swift's 1989 World TourTodd (VO): I have spent so much time in my life thinking about Taylor Swift. As an artist, as a public personality, as a phenomenon. There are very few people alive who've captured the public's imagination like she has.
Todd: And definitely no one who's had a career arc like she has.
More concert footage; audio for "New Romantics" plays in the backgroundTodd (VO): No one has evolved like her. No one has commanded attention like her. No one will ever be Taylor Swift, like Taylor Swift. I actually only really love a small handful of her songs, but I still would absolutely call her one of the greatest pop stars of our time.
Todd: And to underline my point about how iconic she is, check out that last album. 'Cause it suuuuucks.
Video for Taylor Swift - "...Ready For It?"Todd (VO): It's just straight not good. And yet she got a lot of mileage out of it, [shot of article: "Taylor Swift's 'Reputation' Is 2018's Biggest Album"] It was the top-selling album of last year. Only Taylor Swift could have gotten anything out of an album that misconceived.
Todd: But if you power a bad project no one likes to success just off of hype and name recognition, it does catch up with you.
Video for Taylor Swift ft. Future & Ed Sheeran - "End Game"Todd (VO): Cracks were starting to show. The singles underperformed. It could be that Taylor reached the rarefied era of Beyoncé or Kanye where she doesn't even need hits anymore. But, I don't think that she's there yet. And so listening to this new single, my question is...
Todd: Is the Taylor Swift moment over?
Clip of "Me!"
Taylor Swift: I promise that you'll never find another like meTodd (VO): After a long tease, Taylor Swift dropped [single cover for...] "Me!," the lead-off single to her newest, as yet unnamed album. And just like every other lead-off single of hers, it immediately shot to the top of the charts because Taylor Swift owns that #1 spot. It's her goddamn birthright.
Screen capture of Hot 100 chart with "Me!" kept off the top by...
Lil Nas X: I got the horses in the backTodd (VO): OK, so it didn't get the #1 spot.
Video for Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus - "Old Town Road"Yeah, it was held off by "Old Town Road," which has been cockblocking all contenders for the spot for months.
Todd: Which, you know what? Fine.
Todd (VO): "Old Town Road" is one of those bizarre flukes that came from a perfect storm of different trends. It's a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon that we will never see again. No one's beating that.
Todd: So that doesn't say anything bad about Taylor.
Clip from The Simpsons
Father: Well, there's no shame in being beaten by the best.
Boy: But he didn't seem all that...
Father: We were beaten by the best, boy!Todd: So, no big. It doesn't mean anything that it's only at #2 this time. [shots of "Me!" dropping to...] Or...#3. [...and #8...] Or...[...and finally recently to #9] Oh, jeez. This baby's droppin'. That's, uh...that's not good.
Video for "Me!"Todd (VO): Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. For anyone else, four weeks in the Top 10 would be amazing. But Taylor Swift isn't anybody. She was the biggest pop star in the world for the last five years. If it's not absolutely huge, it's a failure. And this is not looking huge.
Todd: So what's going wrong here? Well, let's check out the song itself.
Clip of live performance of "Me!"
Taylor Swift: I promise that you'll never find another like meTodd (VO): Taylor Swift was [shot of article: "Taylor Swift Teases New Music With Mysterious Countdown Clock on Her Instagram"] teasing its release for, like, a month leading up to it. So a song like this, announced with this much fanfare, has to make a big splash.
Todd: Now I've talked about this kind of song before, but I never gave it a pithy name. So, here we go. We're gonna call this, the "I'm back, bitch" single.
Clip of Britney Spears - "Gimme More"
Britney Spears: It's Britney, bitchTodd (VO): Now, a good "I'm back, bitch" single has three major qualities.
Todd: One, it is by the most famous person in the world.
Clip of Michael Jackson - "Bad"
Michael Jackson: Because I'm bad, I'm badTodd (VO): The earliest example I can think of comes from the late King of Pop. May he...
Todd: Well, we're still not gonna go there.
Todd (VO): But, he pioneered the "I'm back, bitch" single because he had to follow up the [brief clip from "Thriller"] biggest album in history.
Todd: It's a kind of song that only works...
Todd (VO): ...if it's going to attract tons of attention just because of the person releasing it.
Todd: Two, it is the start of a new album cycle.
Clip of Eminem - "Without Me"
Eminem: Guess who's back, back againTodd (VO): You have to be reintroducing yourself to the public, so that you can drop your new project. And the momentum from the lead single has to carry the entire record.
Todd: And three, it has to be about absolutely nothing.
Clip of The Black Eyed Peas - "Boom Boom Pow"
will.i.am: Gotta get that (Boom boom boom)
Gotta get thatTodd (VO): It has to be a colossally empty song with no message or topic whatsoever, except of course...
Todd: ...how great the artist is.
Clip of Spice Girls - "Spice Up Your Life"
Scary Spice: Colours of the world (Spice up your life)Todd (VO): It only exists to reaffirm that this superstar is still the biggest fuckin' thing in the universe, and they're gonna continue to stomp ass like [clip of...] Godzilla through Tokyo.
Todd: Now this is a high risk, high reward approach.
Video for Bruno Mars - "24K Magic"Todd (VO): If it works, it can turn a star into an icon. [clip of Miley Cyrus - "Can't Be Tamed"] But if it flops, or even slightly underperforms...
Todd: ...it can throw an entire career into question.
Clip of "2 Legit 2 Quit"
Singers: 2 legit
2 legit 2 quit!Todd (VO): Like, it was supposed to prove how great you were. And it failed.
Todd: I guess you weren't as important as we thought you were.
Video for Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off"Todd (VO): Now, I would not say that Taylor Swift has ever released a song like that.
Todd: Which is weird to say, 'cause all of Taylor's lead-off singles have been huge.
Video for Taylor Swift - "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"Todd (VO): They've been these big, explosive grenades that shocked the pop world. Each and every time, when she's dropped a new single for a new album...
Todd: ...I've gotten up in front of this camera, and just lost my shit.
Taylor: We are never, ever, ever...Todd: Whaaaa?!
Clip of "Shake It Off"
Taylor: My ex-man brought his new girlfriendTodd: Taylor's rapping?! WHAAAA?!
Clip of "Look What You Made Me Do"
Taylor: Ooh, look what you made me doTodd: BLAAAAAURGH!! [falls off piano stool]
Video for "Shake It Off"Todd (VO): Yeah, I feel a little silly about myself now. Those are all perfectly normal pop songs in hindsight.
Todd: Well, "Look What You Made Me Do" still kinda floors me.
Video for "Look What You Made Me Do"Todd (VO): But the reason why those songs shocked me so much at the time, is that they were so radically different from where she started.
Montage clips of "Love Story"; "22"; "Bad Blood"She used to be this sweet, little girl with a guitar who wasn't very flashy, and...didn't seem particularly sophisticated. And each new album since 2012 has pushed her further and further from the image we'd had of her.
Video for "Me!" startsTodd (VO): And it looks like her new single is supposed to do that as well. Another leap forward.
Todd: You can tell because of the intro.
Snippet of snake jumping out and exploding into butterfliesTodd (VO): See, the snake was the [brief clip of "Look What You Made Me Do"] symbol of new, evil, bad girl Taylor. And...[snake clip] poof! "Dark Taylor can't come to the phone right now. Why? 'Cause she's...
Taylor: I know that I'm a handful, baby, uhTodd (VO): And so, at last, we have a true "I'm back, bitch" single from Taylor. That's right. And I know what you're thinking.
Todd: What makes the other singles not that kind of single? And the answer is, they were all about something.
Clip of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"
Taylor: I'm really gonna miss you picking fightsTodd (VO): I mean, yeah, they did all affirm Taylor's superiority in some kind of way. But they all had a point or a theme. They all had a story they were telling; about an awful, on-off relationship, or her [brief clips of "Shake It Off..."] brushing off her haters, or [...and "Look What You Made Me Do"] transforming into a vengeful goddess queen. A true "I'm back, bitch" single shouldn't worry about things like...other people. It should only be about the artist exclusively.
Todd: So is it? Is it only about herself? [shot of single cover for "Me!"] Hmmm. [Todd zooms in on the title] Hmmmmm. Well, I can only speculate, but early indications are good! [gives thumbs up]
Clip of "Me!"
Taylor: I promise that you'll never find another like me-e-eTodd (VO): Yes, yes. The song titled, "Me!" is in fact all about her.
Taylor: I know that I went psycho on the phoneTodd: More specifically, it's about how, "Yeah she's crazy and a mess. But that's what makes her so much fun."
Taylor: I'm the only one of me
Baby, that's the fun of meTodd (VO): And I'll give it this: "One of me" and "fun of me" is a great rhyme. And for as much shit as I gave that last album, I'll say this for it.
Todd: It finally got Taylor to stop thinking of herself as the underdog.
Taylor: Me-e-eTodd (VO): I mean, releasing a single called, "Me!" is a dangerous move for someone who's already perceived as an egotist who's far up her own ass. [clip of...] But compared to, "Shake It Off," where she's still in denial about who the hell she is...
Todd: ...No. I'll take this attitude any day of the week.
Taylor: Trouble's gonna follow where I goTodd (VO): So, what's going wrong here? Why is this not doing well? And more importantly...
Todd: ...why am I not shocked and blubbering incoherently like I usually am with Taylor?
Todd (VO): I mean, this is a horrifying pastel nightmare. Shouldn't I be scandalized at this...crime against good taste?
Todd: Why is my monocle still firmly in my eye?!
Todd (VO): Well, my first problem is this: It's not a huge leap forward. It's presenting itself like it is, what with the big new branding, and the butterflies and all.
Todd: But it's not. It's a step backwards.
Video for Taylor Swift - "Fifteen"Todd (VO): Every previous album was playing off her original image as an innocent, willowy teenage folk singer. [clip of "...Ready For It?"] But with Reputation, we took that hard turn into pop just as far as we could go. We hit the wall. Who even remembers that she played guitar?
Todd: The Old Taylor's dead, remember? There's nothing left of her to kill.
Video for "Me!"Todd (VO): So this song is basically a retreat. She could've made this at any point since she went pop.
Todd: Like, look at this skit in the beginning.
Clip of opening skit for "Me!" (NOTE: The dialogue is in French with English subtitles)
Brendon Urie: You are so dramatic.
Taylor: How dare you?!
Brendon: You need to calm down.
Taylor: I AM CALM!!Todd (VO): Haha, she's crazy and dramatic.
Todd: I've seen this.
Clip of Taylor Swift - "Blank Space"
Taylor: So it's gonna be foreverTodd (VO): In fact, the song itself is basically just the reversal of "Blank Space." You know, it's instead of, "I look nice, but I'm crazy," it's...[clip of "Me!"] "I seem crazy, but it's fun."
Todd: She's basically saying she's sweet, but psycho. Hmmph. [clip of Ava Max - "Sweet But Psycho"] Kind of embarrassing that a song about the same topic by a complete [shot of Hot 100 Chart with both songs right next to each other] no-name is about to overtake her. So anyway...that explains why it's not shocking or groundbreaking. But the bigger problem is, just the sound itself.
Clip of "Me!"
Taylor: And when we had that fight out in the rain
You ran after me and called my nameTodd (VO): See...I forgot to mention the other major important thing about the "I'm back, bitch" single.
Todd: It has to sound humongous.
Video for Imagine Dragons - "Believer"Todd (VO): They should steamroll you. You should feel actively bullied by it.
Todd: 'Cause it's not gonna get you on substance! [shrugs] Remember: About nothing. [various images of...] Nooothing.
Video for "Look What You Made Me Do"Todd (VO): That's something all her other lead singles understood. [clip of "Me!"] But this isn't colossal sounding.
Todd: It's...sweet and pleasant.
Todd (VO): But not sweet and pleasant enough to leave any lingering aftertaste. It certainly doesn't match the video, which is expensive looking and horrifying. It's trying to tell me that I'm listening to a cloying, bubblegum monstrosity, but...
Todd: ...I'm clearly not. If you're gonna go bubblegum, go bubblegum.
Todd (VO): There should be so much bubblegum, you should choke on it. [clip of...] Willy Wonka should be offended by it.
Todd: And I can think of songs like that. [montage clips of...] "Dreamlover" by Mariah Carey; "Sugar Baby Love" by The Rubettes; "Barbie Girl" by Aqua. [clip of "Me!"] Definitely not this. But there is one thing that does make this song stand out from her previous work. There's a guy on it!
Brendon: I know I tend to make it about meTodd (VO): Taylor doesn't do a lot of collaborations. And every time she does do a duet, it freaks me out a little. Mostly because I expect her to break up with him before the end of the song.
Todd: But, yeah. Apparently, she wasn't confident of the song's potential as a solo feature. So she brought in a ringer. [pause] Kind of.
Brendon: Promise that you'll never find another like me-e-eTodd (VO): Yes, Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco.
Todd: Who we must only refer to as [shots of Wikipedia page...] Brendon Urie of [...single cover...] Panic! at the Disco, [...and YouTube] judging by all the labelling of this song. Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco. Brendon Urie is Panic! at the Disco!
Video for Panic! at the Disco - "I Write Sins Not Tragedies"Todd (VO): Panic! was one of the big emo bands of the 2000s. They didn't really have any big pop hits after that first album, but their [clip of concert performance of "Emperor's New Clothes"] fandom never got any less intense. Those guys are nuts. And that's an impressive feat considering all their internal drama.
Clip of live performance of "Nine in the Afternoon"Half the band left after their second album, including their main songwriter. And the last remaining other members left two years ago, so it's essentially just a solo project now.
Todd: But somehow, Urie has kept the...[air quote] "band" going.
Video for Panic! at the Disco - "High Hopes"Todd (VO): And he brought it back to prominence last year with a big comeback hit, "High Hopes."
Brendon: Always had high, high hopesNow I was always a pretty big fan of Panic!. I really like Death of a Bachelor, their album from 2016.
Todd: But this new song, I'm sorry. "High Hopes" is crappity-crap-crap-crap.
Video for Panic! at the Disco - "Hey Look Ma, I Made It"Todd (VO): It plays a little better on the album, which is [album cover for Pray for the Wicked] Urie's full dive into pop-mania. And...it is...
Todd: ...ugh, I hate the phrase, hot mess. So...let's call it a, flaming shambles. A feverous wreckage.
Clip of "High Hopes"Todd (VO): I actually kinda like it despite myself 'cause it's so ridiculous. But, "High Hopes" is easily the most boring, worst-sounding song on the record. [clip of "Me!"] So, I guess I see why Taylor snagged him for this...similarly cheap and shitty-sounding song.
Todd: I didn't wanna believe it, but...after observing that last album...
Todd (VO): ...and now this, it's undeniable.
Todd: Brendon Urie is undergoing what I can only call a [brief clip of Maroon 5 - "Moves Like Jagger"] full Adam Levinization. And I can hear the Panic! die-hards...
Todd (VO): ...even the ones who hate the new sound being all like, "Well, that's not fair. He's not that bad."
Video for...Todd (VO): "Payphone" wasn't the worst song either. But the direction was clear. [shots of articles: "A lot of people hated that Maroon 5 Super Bowl LIII halftime show"...] And look, Levine is [...and "Adam Levine Exits The Voice"] on his way out.
Clip of live performance of "High Hopes"Someone's gotta fill that void, and cash those checks.
Video for "Me!"Todd (VO): But Urie's move towards bland, sellout-ism might stop right here. 'Cause he sure doesn't do anything for this song.
Todd: He's not a strong enough presence to be a match for Taylor.
Todd (VO): He doesn't have the star power, as indicated by how [single cover for "Me!"] they have to keep reminding you who he is.
Todd: And maybe he was picked so he wouldn't overshadow Taylor, but it makes for an unbalanced duet.
Todd (VO): Plus, they have no chemistry. I don't think Taylor's ever had chemistry with anyone.
Todd: And even if they did, just his very presence, or anyone's presence, would be wrong!
Todd (VO): The name of the song is, "Me!"
Todd: If Taylor's gonna write a song called, "Me!", that's who it should be about! There shouldn't be anyone else on it!
Todd (VO): It just seems like a song that doesn't know what it's doing. I just see no surprises in it.
Brendon: Hey kids!
Taylor: Spelling is fun!Todd: Actually, hold up. What?
Brendon: Hey kids!
Taylor: Spelling is fun!
Brendon: Girl, there ain't no I in "team"
Taylor: But you know there is a "me"
Brendon: Strike the band up, 1, 2, 3Todd (VO): What the...
Todd: [Todd stares on in confusion] ...Oh. Oh, I know what this is trying to be.
Clip of Gwen Stefani - "Hollaback Girl"
Gwen Stefani: Let me hear you say, this shit is bananas
B-A-N-A-N-A-STodd: It all makes sense now!
Clip of live of performance of "Me!"; "Hollaback Girl" continues playingTodd (VO): The marching band beat...spelling. Except for not being a lead-off single, this is a perfect example...
Todd: ...of the effect Taylor's trying to achieve.
Gwen: 'Cause I ain't no Hollaback GirlTodd (VO): You know, I don't know if I've ever told y'all this, but I really love "Hollaback Girl."
Todd: I mean, it does not work. At all. But it blew my mind.
Todd (VO): At the time, I thought it was the craziest thing a major pop star had ever dared to release for mass consumption. [clip of...] And even though I hated that awful cheerleader rap from "Shake It Off", it operated much the same way.
Todd: Sometimes, being obnoxious works.
Todd (VO): If you're annoying, that means you caught people's attention.
Todd: It's a start.
Video for "Me!"Todd (VO): But this is...I mean, what are we even doin'?
Brendon: Girl, there ain't no I in "team"Gwen Stefani's shit being bananas was not something I'd ever heard before.
Todd: This is something I absolutely have heard before.
Todd (VO): There's a "me" in "team". I think that was a joke I heard on Nickelodeon when I was in the sixth grade. What does it even have to do with anything? Who is talking about being a team?
Todd: The whole "spelling is fun" thing should be the lead-up to something either crazy or mind-meltingly awful.
Brendon: You can't spell "awesome" without "me"Todd: But there's nothing special or interesting about it. [image of T-shirt with caption: There's No I In Team, But There's A Me] These are all slogans I'd see on a bumper sticker at Spencer's Gifts! [pause] She's not even spelling anything!
Todd (VO): I guess that's the problem with the entire song. Instead of "I'm back, bitch," this is..."well, I guess I'm back," or something.
Todd: This is the moment in her career where she needed to make a big splash, and instead she played it safe.
Todd (VO): It's trying to be campy and cute, but it's not campy and cute enough to be any fun.
Todd: It just sounds like the Glee version of itself.
Todd (VO): I'm not saying her career's over or anything. Maybe that new album will be packed with hits. But this is starting to became a really alarming pattern. I shouldn't be able to mistake a Taylor Swift song for a Meghan Trainor song. That's a really bad sign. For a song that's supposed to be a celebration of all things Taylor, it feels like a total letdown in all regards. And like a goodbye to the days where Taylor Swift could command attention just by existing.
Todd: Think spelling is fun? Well, here's a letter for you: D. Maybe even D-. Good luck with the rest of the album.
Taylor & Brendon: Nobody's gonna love you like me-e-eClosing Tag Song: "Mi Mi Mi" - Serebro
"Me!" is owned by Republic Records
This video is owned by me
THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!